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Superstorm waves cause little damage along Lake Michigan shoreline

Workers use heavy equipment return sbeach areIndianDunes State Park ChestertThursday Nov. 1 2012. High winds from storm system surrounding Hurricane

Workers use heavy equipment to return sand to the beach area at the Indiana Dunes State Park in Chesterton Thursday Nov. 1, 2012. High winds from the storm system surrounding Hurricane Sandy deposited unusually high amount of sand in the parking lot. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 3, 2012 6:38AM



While a long way from the main event, Northwest Indiana felt the wrath of Hurricane Sandy along the shoreline of Lake Michigan early this week in the form of high winds and estimated 20-foot waves, but no serious property damage or beach erosion appears to have occurred.

Low lake water levels appear to have saved the lakefront from any major destructive impact from the storm.

The dramatic sight of 20-foot waves helped boost paid park admissions at an otherwise slow time of year. “It had a positive revenue effect with all the people coming to see the lake,” said Brandt Baughman, Indiana Dunes State Park property manager.

Dunes National Lakeshore rangers stationed at the Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk unit observed steady crowds, too. Some visitors wanting to view the waves of epic proportion were turned away due to limited parking there.

The rangers noted some scouring of sand away from the base of a ramp designed to make the beach handicapped accessible. Jenny Orsburn, Portage Parks Department superintendent, planned to assess the damage early Thursday with city engineer John Harmon.

“We’re going to look at the impact on the walkway when it’s safer to get out there,” Orsburn said. The waves were striking the walkway so a review to determine the extent of undermining, if any, is needed, she said. The Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk is owned by the National Lakeshore but operated and maintained by the city of Portage.

“We got pretty lucky at the beach,” said Bruce Rowe, public information officer for the National Lakeshore. There does not appear to be any erosion at Mount Baldy but staffers still needed to assess all the beaches, Rowe said.

Rowe said one tree was felled across a trail due to high winds and that a hazardous tree assessment will be undertaken along the 45 miles of hiking trails.

Ogden Dunes Marshal Jim Reeder said one beach access road was closed due on Tuesday due to debris blown onto the road and an officer reported that a beachfront house sustained minor damage.

The reason the Indiana shoreline of Lake Michigan saw such little damage, according to Steve Davis, Lake Michigan specialist for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, is because of near record low water levels.

“I came in yesterday (Tuesday) expecting reports of death and destruction,” Davis said. He’s still waiting.

Because of low water levels waves break farther from shore, expending their energy away from the shoreline. Low water levels cause beaches to be much wider, too, so waves that do make it to shore have less destructive energy and can’t travel as far up the beach to reach the dune face where more erosion would take place, Davis said.

Davis noted that with the onset of winter lake levels typically drop even farther. He said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has estimated that in the next six months the lake level could break the record low of 576.05 feet set in March 1964.

As of Sept. 12 the surface elevation of Lake Michigan measured 576.97 feet above sea level, less than 1 foot higher than the record low.



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